Posted by: patenttranslator | January 27, 2016

Disruptive Thinking Is Usually More Constructive Than Always Agreeing with the Wisdom of the Crowd

An innocent albeit somewhat flippant remark that I made online was relatively recently used, by a person that I was trying to have a civilized conversion with, to turn me into Public Enemy Number 1. All I really did was suggest that while what this person was saying did make sense, at least on the surface, it was also possible to view the issue from a very different viewpoint and that in my opinion, that different viewpoint made more sense.

And this was interpreted as a declaration of war.

Since I have been writing my silly posts on Mad Patent Translator’s blog for almost six years now – there are 585 posts and 7,451 comments on my blog, and it has well over half a million views – I have had a number of these kinds of exchanges with people who have expressed intense hostility to whatever it was that I was saying in such an extreme manner that I consider these people trolls, which is to say that I’m not interested in talking to them anymore as it’s a waste of time to try to discuss anything with an angry, combative troll.

I can think of perhaps five instances of people who were trying, for a number of reasons, to attack me in any way they could imagine, instead of trying to have a civilized discussion from which both parties could benefit. It should be a self-evident truism that the losing party in a discussion gains more than the winner because that’s the party that learns something new. But that truism can only be true of course when further discussion is still possible. Maybe it’s no longer true. It’s definitely not true in the mass media, where winning a shouting match is indeed not just everything, but the only thing that matters.

I think that it’s interesting that two of these five people that I consider trolls were originally enthusiastic readers of my posts and occasional commenters, until I said something that they just couldn’t stomach, although it didn’t relate to them personally, at which point they decided to become my sworn enemies.

Another two of them went to the trouble of creating different WordPress pseudonyms for their personas, also known as “sock puppets”, in order to continue attacking me while pretending that they weren’t who they really were, just to be able to do it from a safer, more anonymous space. One of them admitted that this was indeed the case when I called her/him out on it, which I consider kind of classy. In fact, having done so, (s)he is probably no longer in the troll category. The other one didn’t admit anything, which I consider kind of cowardly, but did seem to have disappeared after I called his/her bluff, possibly out of embarrassment at being caught.

Are these people still reading my posts? I don’t know. For the sake of their sanity, as well as mine, I hope they aren’t. Life is too short to fight wars with imaginary enemies. There will be plenty of real wars in life that will need to be fought. We need to pick our battles carefully and try to conserve our strength for fighting wars that are indeed necessary and worth fighting.

I generally know when I am about to get into trouble already when I am writing a post. For some reason, I do it anyway. For example, when I came across a study by Jeremy Brunson from the Department of Sociology at Syracuse University with statistics indicating that the overwhelming majority of sign language interpreters are women, I concluded in my post that the real reason for this is that women like to be the center of attention, and being a sign interpreter is a good way to have your face shown on TV while you are so cleverly interpreting in your new clothes.

It was a joke, of course, but as expected, I was immediately attacked by women, and some men, who called my post ill-informed and worse, as if they truly believed that I had seriously meant what I said in it. I was asked repeatedly, by several people, months after I wrote my post, to delete the post or take back what I had said or else! The truth is, it’s OK when women are making fun of men, but it’s strictly forbidden in our culture for men to make fun of women, just like it’s forbidden for white people (but only for white people) to use the n-word. Making fun of women in any manner whatsoever is politically incorrect and terribly sexist, hence the general uproar after a post that contained so much misguided cheekiness. But the post was very popular, it got hundreds of likes on Facebook, so somebody must have liked it.

We translators just love to agree with each other! I don’t know whether it’s true about blogs on topics other than translation, but many translators’ blogs contain preachy advice for translators that I find mostly useless because what is expressed in their posts is simply common sense. But many translators love to read similar posts, which is evidenced by the number of commenters who eagerly chime in to express their absolute (100%) agreement with everything the blogger said. I call these comments “Dear Melanie comments”, because they are often posted by women, usually young women, who like something that another young woman said (darn it, I think that I’ve just said something politically incorrect and extremely sexist again!)

If on the other hand what you say is not in complete and absolute (100%) agreement with what the other person said, you risk stirring up a hornets’ nest.

I noticed for the first time how intolerant some translators can be to an opposing view when I wrote a post titled Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Trados or Other Translation Memory Tools. This was in July of 2010, about 5 months after I started blogging, but this old blog post still has a lot of views just about every day, dozens of comments and the comment section keeps growing. Not surprisingly, the guy who made the last comment only 7 days ago too simply can’t believe that anybody would be so dumb as not to see the obvious advantages of CATs, and Trados in particular, because it works for him so well.

Trying to explain to CAT lovers that those damn CATs don’t work for me and that I need them about as much as I need a hole in my head is like trying to convince citizens of North Korea that their beloved Chubby Leader probably is not really a genius. It just can’t be done: the crowd absolutely hates it when somebody dares to say something that is incompatible with the wisdom of the crowd and you run a serious risk of becoming Public Enemy Number 1, whether you dare to question the genius of The Chubby Leader, or the wisdom of using The CATs.

The problem is, if there is pressure on blogging translators not to dare to express views that might be somewhat controversial, not to make fun of sacred cows because some people might be offended by it, and if nobody dares to resist this pressure because it could be risky, most of what is said on our blogs will be very boring.

In closing, I apologize in advance to all women named Melanie who feel offended by my post today, especially the young ones, but I’m not taking anything back.


  1. Formidable !

    I was about to post my late comment to your last blog post, but now I’d better refrain myself from commenting before I’ve finished exactly reading this post of yours, least being considered a troll, since you know how many times I would like to contra your viewpoints.

    I’ll be back when I am done with my loads of work.


  2. Good to hear from you again. I just can’t imagine Wenjer as a troll. I would have to engage in extremely insulting blasphemy against the Chinese culture or something (which I would never do because I know better than that).

    “Lots of work”? Whatever happened to being “semi-retired”?


  3. Keep on keepin’ on, Steve.
    Love, Melanie (though I’m far from young!)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m also a fan of disruptive thinking and I can say with some level of certainty that I am in at least 97.5% agreement with you on this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Criticising, disagreeing with or even questioning someone these days is immediately interpreted as an attack. This rot has even spread to our declining universities where any disruptive influences are gagged. These were once hotbeds of radicalism. The LSE is regularly in the news these days for wanting its students to live in a bubble, and they gladly go along with it. It’s a dangerous path when people only feel safe if they follow the crowd, cease to challenge anything and measure their happiness or success by Facebook Likes.


    • When “right wingers” criticize political correctness on the left, I almost always have to agree with them.

      I don’t quite understand why because otherwise I mostly disagree with them.

      What is “LSE”?


      • Yes, I agree with your first point.

        The London School of Economics. Once a left-wing uni, like most of them, now a bastion of conservative narrow-mindedness, with everyone pussy-footing around in case they upset somebody and any free speech is banned. They’re pretty much all the same now.

        I despair when I see how right-wing and materialistic young people can be these days. If they’re like that now what are they going to be like when they’re middle-aged?


      • “Right wing” in United States means slightly or considerably to the right of Mussolini. “Left wing” means slightly to the left of Mussolini. And yet, I have to agree with “right wingers” when they complain about excessive political correctness.

        I like the term “pussyfooting” which according to online dictionary means “to act or proceed cautiously or timidly to avoid committing oneself”.

        That is exactly why so many translators’ blogs are so bland and boring.


    • Lisa, how I wish the site would let me Like your post! Please take this as a Like 🙂


      • Thank you!
        I can’t Like either. I think you need a WordPress account for that.


      • There must be an all-out war between WordPress and Blogger. I find it impossible to comment or to “like” on posts on the Blogger platform.


  6. I have been a technical translator for nearly 30 years. I must be doing something right, because I have regular high-profile clients who keep coming back and have been doing so for many years, and they keep recommending me to more such clients.
    I have never used CAT tools in my work.
    So sue me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have been in business for 28 years and not only have I never used a CAT, but I have never been even asked by a client, by which I mean a direct client, to use one.

      CATs, and Trados in particular, are REQUIRED only by translation agencies, mostly by dishonest agencies, so that they could cheat translators on the word count.

      I noticed that all of the resumes that young translators who want to work for me send to me always have “Trados” user prominently displayed. To me this is a sign of an obedient newbie who is trying to mask his or her inexperience by advertising dexterity when it comes to the use of computer tools.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t think a direct client has ever asked me, either. Various agencies have asked me, but I have only agreed once, because they had a good reputation and sounded as though they were somebody I could usefully work with.

        If I want to OCR texts and use TM on them, that’s my business, surely?

        And aren’t we getting a bit off-topic for this entry?

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I think it should be possible to criticise or disagree *politely* without giving the impression to attack + being a troll. 😉
    I do not use any CAT either myself but I would never pretend it is silly to use them at all (without falling into the trap of giving discounts): other colleagues have different needs, backgrounds, methods. I am a global person, I cannot stand segments… But everybody is free…
    BTW, being aggressive on the web is not the exclusivity of translators. I work as an artist as well, and there, for example, other prejudices are alive (i.e. abstract artists are charlatans who cannot draw vs. figurative artists reproduce because they don’t have own ideas, etc.)


  8. “(i.e. abstract artists are charlatans who cannot draw vs. figurative artists reproduce because they don’t have own ideas, etc.)”

    Sounds like a variant of “If you are not doing what I am doing, you are doing it wrong”.

    Good to know that everybody is either agreeing with everything, or fighting it out in an all-out war also among other tribes, not just translators.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What’s the point to reading something you’re 100% in agreement with?
    You could write it yourself and self-comment how brilliant you are and how much you agree?
    But should you learn anything along the way?

    If too many people agree on what you say or write, this is probably because you are just expressing good old common sense, I may post “I prefer to go for a walk when there is no rain”, and plenty people will agree, but should I actually blog that?

    I know that some people do, but just like some do not need Trados, I do not need this sort of Tweet, Facebook status or blog post.

    I like to read something that I have never been thinking of, or from a point of view I had not envisioned, because then I learn something or see an other part of the story.

    Philosophy is about discussing questions that have no single answer, I remember once when moderating a swimming forum a topic started by a newbie “do you prefer warm or cold water”. I wondered if I should remove such a pointless debate, but it proved later to be one of the hottest and most debated topics, just like your “I do not need Trados”. Small talk in bars is not the most intellectually rewarding, but this is the most common kind of talk.

    So we do not agree on everything, else I should not need to read your thoughts, I do use Trados and other tools (among which many are much better!) because I have long been a software developer, because they improve MY productivity on CERTAIN tasks, except when I translate patents, where I must say that the usefulness is limited to some repeated claims or parts of sentences that a word processor can duplicate as fast and faithfully as a TM system.

    By the way a controversial tongue-in-cheek subject to get fire in your blog: translators are mainly female these days, however per my experience patent translators, just like software translators from the old days (30 years ago) are mainly male, is this because men are so much proud of themselves that they want to show off with their konwledge of the latest technology even before it is on the market?


  10. “By the way a controversial tongue-in-cheek subject to get fire in your blog: translators are mainly female these days, however per my experience patent translators, just like software translators from the old days (30 years ago) are mainly male”

    I don’t know if this is true. Maybe not.

    I regularly work with about a dozen translators who translate for me patents from and into languages such as French, German, Chinese, Korean and Japanese (mostly into these languages), and with two exceptions, they are all female.

    I think that it depends on the patent field. Women dislike certain fields, such as mechanical engineering (some say that this is because men have a better perception of spatial relationships than women and that this is also why men are supposedly better drivers), but they like and excel in other fields, such as biology or chemistry.

    The reason why I work mostly with women may have to do with the fact that I do a lot of chemistry. But generally speaking, when I look for a new patent translator, I prefer women (depending on the field). They are usually very thorough, often better organized than men, and probably more reliable when it comes to deadlines …. with exceptions, of course.


    • I LOVE mech eng! Don’t tar us all with the same brush because of our gender, please 🙂

      (I rather like chemistry as well …)

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Sorry for the OT, but I was wondering if you’ve seen this article on the Wall Street Journal:
    “The Language Barrier Is About to Fall
    Within 10 years, earpieces will whisper nearly simultaneous translations—and help knit the world closer together”
    Another piece of misinformation…


    • Completely ludicrous. I attempted to sign in to suggest that he come back in 10 years with a hat and I’d provide him with a knife, fork and plate. Only the WSJ’s insistence on knowing waaaay too much personal information about me before letting me log in stopped me.


      • “We just want to know who you are”.

        This happened to me with WSJ in the past too …. and I quit trying to read an article. This time it let me read it for some reason although I did not give them any personal information. Maybe they get this valuable information automatically from WordPress or Facebook or something.


  12. Another piece of misinformation is absolutely right. I went to the author’s website and here is how he describes himself:

    “Alec Ross is one of America’s leading experts on innovation. He is the author of The Industries of the Future, speaks to audiences around the world about the future of technology, and advocates for digital solutions to solve global problems.”

    In other words, he is just one of those people who is trying hard to make money by being a guru. It seems to me that he is just another pundit who does not seem to know or understand anything about the basic problems with machine translations. There are quite a few people like that out there and most of them seem to be better informed and able to make a better case for MT that this particular guru.


  13. Agreed. As I type, there is a presentation being given about how we should all conform to groupthink and be careful never to disagree with each other, ever. All criticism is categorised as ranting, and is a Bad Thing.

    So yes, long live the dissenting voices. And down with the Pollyana-esque bloggers who seem unable to type the word “client” without prefixing it with the word “lovely” or some synonym thereof. 🙂

    FWIW, which is very little, I actually try to explain CAT tools (which I use) to my direct clients, in very broad terms, because it helps to justify e.g. why I’d rather they didn’t send PDFs, and it can serve as a “neutral” calculator for discounts (I do a lot of insurance policies which are basically the same, except for the names and the odd clause here and there, and they don’t expect to pay full whack for what they believe is basically a copy/paste job, so we strike a balance – they don’t pay full whack, and I’m well paid for my expertise and investment in the software).

    Keep on keeping on

    Liked by 1 person

    • If you’re talking about my presentation, Charlie, I fear you’ve been greatly misinformed.


      • Dissent is fine. Challenging our peers’ ideas is to be encouraged. The problem is that, more often than not, the contributions by “disruptive thinkers” are not constructive. They often present a problem in a self-indulgent, angry, sarcastic or passive-aggressive way without suggesting any solutions. And when they encounter disagreement, they shut the argument down. They resort to personal attacks, accusing the other party of ignorance because they are too young or too female to understand, the former case being exactly what you did, Steve, in the comments section of the post that triggered this knee-jerk reaction of a post.

        Ranting is another kettle of fish. We’re talking about translators who can’t refer to a client without qualifying the word with the f-word or c-word. Ironically, the rant is often caused by the translator demanding more respect from the client, but one needs to conduct oneself professionally to be treated as such.

        And believe it or not, the crowd can sometimes actually be in the right.


      • Apologize to Charlie, Loyd (isn’t that what you said to me last time)?

        And if I respond to your comment and say something that you might disagree with, are you friends going to start asking me on social media to apologize to you?

        Isn’t that what you and your friends have been doing?

        Not exactly the best way to have a discussion.


      • It is indeed what I said to you, Steve. The two situations are of course hardly comparable, as you well know. I lament the fact that you still view your comments to Paula as reasonable and decent. The friends whom to you refer to are not friends, simply fellow professionals who oppose patronising ageism.

        Whether it was intentional or not, your exaggeration came across as intentional misrepresentation to illustrate your point, Charlie. I understand what satire is. There is nothing wrong with satire and comic relief is good for us, but that’s not what we are talking about here. Criticism and ranting should be distinguished from one another, the former being based on content, the latter on form. The effing and jeffing come not from the company I keep, but from a translators’ forum on FB which has several thousands of members. The effect on clients is one thing (many members are actually agency reps or fellow translators who are clients), but often the ranting, raving and despicable personal attacks are directed at fellow translators who are part of the same forum. Not to mention the notion of professionalism.


      • 1. The oblique reference about your presentation was exaggeration for effect, as the nod to a classic was intended to suggest.
        (Incidentally I did see the slide about the negativity on a satirical FB page, and fear a misunderstanding about the nature of satire.)

        2. I object to criticism of criticism that refers in any way to not offering solutions. Offering solutions is obviously preferable, but all other things being equal, criticism remains valid whether or not a solution is suggested at the same time.
        (I can think of many situations of which I am critical but cannot offer a solution, from people driving on the phone, through tax avoidance, to the war in Syria.)

        3. I agree with the rest of your criticism of the style adopted some “disruptive thinkers”. My perception is, however, that too often dissent/criticism is rejected as if it were all delivered in this way, even when it is not. Besides, content should trump form.

        4. If you are seeing a lot of effing and jeffing, you should be more discerning of the company you keep. I see very little. But then, as I said on my blog (/ , I’m not on FB or rather, not in a way that makes me privy to translators’ groups on FB. From that perspective, I suggest the effect on clients is probably rather small.

        5. I deliberately avoided talking about the crowd. As you say, sometimes the crowd is right. Sometimes it is wrong.
        There are no useful conclusions to be drawn about a viewpoint purely on the basis of whether it is or is not the majority view. It is irrelevant.

        6. There is, of course, no need to apologise 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  14. I was being ironic about the need to apologize. I used your comment and name to emphasize how inane such a request would be, for which I apologize. (Or not? I am not sure at this point … whatever displeases the angry crowd more).


  15. There are certainly a few people who perceive that (how can I put this neutrally?) those pleading for a less abrasive discussion environment are indeed seeking not only to improve the form but to somehow suppress the content. I note a comment in this vein in Simon Berrill’s blog here:

    This might suggest that some work is required on the delivery of the message.

    I note too that Simon Berrill plans to blog about Lloyd’s presentation next week. He has the undoubted advantage of having heard the whole shebang, not just tweets and photos of individual slides.

    (Incidentally, Lloyd, “the company you keep” was in fact meant as a reference to the FB groups you visit, read, and find so unprofessional. I need to work on delivering my own messages!)


    • You’re absolutely right, Charlie. That does need to be clarified. In fact, I (and like-minded professionals) don’t mind some good abrasive discussion so we can talk frankly and in detail about the problems our industry faces. The issue is when there is no discussion or no logical argument presented. Instead, there is mud-slinging and personal attacks, falsely portrayed as satire or irony.

      Yes, this message therefore needs to be clearer – hard to do in print – but it can be crystal clear and still be intentionally misrepresented to suit one’s own agenda (not suggesting this has happened on this page, but I’ve experienced it before from some who fight for the right to call their client an effing c-word in front of thousands of people).

      Simon was indeed there and raised some valid concerns about the message that need to be addressed so myths can be dispelled. I hope he’ll raise these in the blog post and look forward to continuing the discussion.


      • Perhaps I’m pre-empting what is to come, then, but if someone publicly calls their client that, then there are 2 issues which it is useful to separate:

        a) the lack of consideration to others’ sensitivities shown in the use of top strength industrial language (and I use both those words in my private life several times a day, so have no objection to them per se, but I’m obviously fully aware there’s a time and a place!). One warning should be enough, otherwise moderators ought to step in. Otherwise said forum is simply not being run professionally, and is therefore not a professional forum. QED.

        b) the public display of the underlying attitude reflected. If those opinions can be expressed without effing and jeffing, I’m very much in favour of giving people the rope they need to hang themselves. With the exception of MPs and estate agents, I don’t tar all members of a profession with the same brush, and don’t believe a few potty-mouthed individuals on FB are ruining my prospects with clients (especially since, as I say, I’m in the profession, I actively go looking to spectate car-crash threads and I can’t read them, so I very much doubt my clients do!).

        And lastly, if you (collectively) as language professionals working daily with the written word are struggling to articulate your message clearly to us moaning bastards, then evidently something is awry….


  16. Simon’s blog post mentioned above has been posted:


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